Checking In After A While

I’ve been up to a number of things lately but I haven’t gotten round to describing them. Unfortunately, most of my recent activities do not involve field trips. Still, I wanted to check in at this time and I hope to get a proper post done around Tuesday or Wednesday. I wish you all a great holiday season.

Recent update to the Benitoite page

My personal writing blog has this post on sparkles in mineral photography

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Cheaper Microscope Photography?

The sand pictures below were taken with a small microscope that attaches to a computer with a USB cable. The cable provides light to the scope which is best  supplemented by conventional, additional lights.  This scope is currently selling for $119 at B&H Photo. 

I bought this scope while getting into mineral photography for my book. Unfortunately, its five megapixel resolution was not good enough to produce publishable images in hardcopy. That’s why I got my 65 pound, $1,200 (!) microscope with its 12 megapixel accessory camera. Printable images. Still, can this little scope work fo your needs? Say producing images for the web?

Differences in color between the shots are the result of different adjustments in Elements and the fact that I only had a yellow incandescent bulb to supplement the scope’s LED light. Never-the-less, you can judge if these kind of images would suit your purposes. A caution, you will always want a microscope that magnifies more.

This shot is as magnified as I can get it. The software keeps calling for “calibration” when wants to increase the magnification but there aren’t any menu choices for calibration.  I’m not sure if that is a problem with a Windows program ported over to the Mac but it may be. The free software is made for both Windows and Mac machines. Open the jpegs the scope makes in camera RAW.

And another picture. The big color and contrasts differences are from multiple adjustments in Photoshop, trying to get the image to reproduce what I saw in person.

Another shot.

I’ve taken this little scope on the road with me to view materials in my hotel room. Runs well off my laptop but it does make my Mac’s fans turn on in just a short time.

To compare these photos to ones taken with my big scope, go to my personal writing website:

Same sand, different scope.


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It’s Got To Have Sheen to Shine

I’ve started taking photographs of rocks and minerals I’ve sourced to illustrate my book. While my publisher has an account at, I need certain custom photos to accompany my text. My work this morning revealed insights into truthful rock and mineral photography.

My tools are a camera, a tripod, and a light table. The light table flickers so I leave it off, using its white surface as a background. Professionals say that dark material is usually photographed against a light background while lighter material shows best against dark. But my publisher prefers white for all shots.

I took this photo of phyllite and I thought it turned out well. I was using natural light through a south window. A flat specimen, it had no irregular surfaces to throw the camera out of focus.

A few hours later I happened to glance at the description given by Geological Specimen Supply, fine folks who answer their e-mails and sell good sized rock and mineral specimens. Their description reads in part, “Phyllite is one step beyond slate in metamorphism. The surface has a definite sheen from clay minerals that altered to mica, chlorite or graphite.” Hmm. Where was my sheen?

While I will have to take another photograph with my good camera, I snapped a pic with my iPhone camera and a table lamp to show the sheen. Here it is. Looks different, doesn’t it?

While I don’t have a piece of slate handy to show the difference between it and phyllite, I do have a photograph of shale, which is the first step in the metamorphic process. First shale, then slate, then phyllite. And then schist and then gneiss. This shale was photographed under the same side lighting as used in the shot above. No sheen at all, which is a definite property of phyllite. This shale, by the way, is what you would look into for trilobites.

As a side note, the phyllite shown was collected in Placer County in the American River Canyon. There are actually three canyons in that area as there are three forks of the American River, though they wander into El Dorado County as well. These canyons were my main prospecting area for over twenty years and I can’t tell you how many times I walked over slate, when in fact it was probably phyllite. The differences in the rock world can certainly be sublime.  Until you throw some light on the subject!



Wide Angle Photography or Photoshop?

The Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona is probably the greatest natural wonder in private hands. At least in America. It is an overlooked jewel outshined by the publicity that National and State Parks gather.

At over 4,000 feet across, the crater is impossible to fully photograph from the observation platforms provided. The crater is just too wide.

Some cameras stitch a series of photographs together to form a panorama. You take a number of photographs, preferably using a tripod, about 25° apart, and then you let the camera do its magic.

My Canon lacks that ability so I used the Photomerge feature in Photoshop. From two different vantage points I took a series of photographs and later put them together when I got back home.

The first set turned out poorly; they were taken from a low elevation and didn’t get the scope of the crater. The second set turned out much better and with luck that panorama will go into my book.

On a whim I took a shot with my expensive and impressive looking wide angle lens. How would it do compare with Photomerge? it almost worked.

The lens almost captured the width of the crater. But see that viewing platform in the lower right hand corner? It’s at an odd angle, made so by the distortion every wide angle lens introduces. Had I not included the platform I may have succeeded with that shot.


All in all, the photomerge function worked far better. It uses a set of photos taken with a regular lens that has little to no distortion. And it covered a wider field of view. But the wide angle lens has its place when you are trying to be artistic or when you do have a composition that will be little bothered by the almost fish-eye effect. See below.